Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Feature: John Ng on Ching Chong Chinaman (fu-GEN, Toronto)

by John Ng

Last week, an older brother of mine invited me for a ten-course meal at an upscale Cantonese restaurant in Scarborough to meet a group of his closest friends, most of whom he met while on a cruise ship in Europe a few years back and all, like him, are first-generation Chinese immigrants, fellow retirees with deep-pockets and the accompanied status that was earned through years of unrelenting work ethic. Now, they are dedicated thrill-seekers, prone to spending lavishly and satisfying their burgeoning appetite as they happily reap the fruits of their labour. 
As dinner made its way onto the Lazy Susan, one eye-catching dish at a time, the conversation between my brother and his friends grew more spirited, with topics ranging from investment real estate, mah jong, and the next great travel destination. Meanwhile, my thoughts drifted from the rehearsal I had had that day, the need to be off-book as soon as possible, and how I could politely decline the shark fin soup that was due to be served later as part of our menu without potentially insulting my brother and making him lose face before his guests. Then, as if almost on cue, I heard David in his I-want-to-make-sure-everyone-in-the-room-can-hear-me voice mention my name, “John is a stage actor and he is here in Toronto to do a play. I think he would love for all of you to attend.” Before I could bend down to retrieve the piece of abalone that had slipped involuntarily out from my mouth, the stringy, gray-haired man with the gold tooth sitting across the table from me looked over in my direction with a bit of feigned interest and asked, “So, what is the name of this show?””

Doug Flutie.

The Little General

Nina Lee Aquino reminds me of Doug Flutie. 

There is an old axiom in football that a team is only as good as its quarterback. The same analogy can be made in describing the role of the director in a theatrical production. Like its counterpart on the gridiron, the director is the engine that drives the machine, responsible for bringing all the components together in cohesion under a single purpose and understanding the strengths of every asset that is available before him; to inspire and maximize the potential of each individual player, to elevate their game when the lights are on. He must possess the vision to see the entire field, and the acumen to articulate and execute the game plan, while carrying the confidence to trust his instincts and improvise on the fly if necessary, to take risks or turn a broken play into (as if by design and not some scrambling act of desperation) a positive, net gain, without sacrificing momentum or the big picture. 


After three weeks of exploration in a rehearsal room, we have moved inside to the Aki Studio Theatre at Daniels Spectrum Regent Park to begin our tech preparation before the official opening of Ching Chong Chinaman’s on March 14.  First day “on deck” (the set on stage) is always a fun and exciting time for the cast and crew of a show.  In this case, it is even more welcomed because the intricate set created by Camellia Koo is so specific to the world Nina has envisioned in her interpretation of the play and how we, as characters, move about in it. What this means for the audience coming to this show is that every seat in the house will offer a different view of the action on stage, and where one sits may affect significantly that person’s perspective on the show. 

Prior to our first walk-through of the studio, Nina assembled the cast together for a brief huddle backstage. She began her address by encouraging us to use the available opportunity to live and breathe in the space, to make it our home, and to “keep playing” and allow ourselves to make new discoveries even as we are adjusting to the physical surroundings. Most directors by this point of the process are ready to push the panic button if their pre-set markers for where the actors’ level of readiness should be have not been met. I have yet to see Nina sweat. And I feel safe because of her open line of communication, unwavering from Day One, and her strong commitment to provide us with the room and time to grow at our own pace, to watch us as we lose ourselves in the forest and still maintain the composure while we stagger and struggle to find a way out, secure in the knowledge that she is there to guide us to an alternative solution.  

Finally, Nina turned our attention to those working behind the scene, the members of the stage management and technical crew who have been working diligently and for long hours in prepping the stage for us so that we get to do what we do and just play. The message was appropriate and a necessary reminder as actors to be appreciative, generous, gracious, patient and respectful to those who rarely receive enough thanks for their contribution in bringing a show to life.   

Did I tell you Nina reminds me of Doug Flutie?     

JOHN NG plays Ed Wong in Ching Chong Chinaman, by Lauren Yee, produced by fu-GEN Theatre, at Aki Studio Theatre inside Daniels Spectrum, Regent Park, 585 Dundas St. E. (March 12 - 30)

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